Slick hands at the ATM
Foreigners are increasingly being targeted by sophisticated ATM fraud syndicates, who rake in up to R60000 a week at a single cash dispenser.
Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID) safety and security manager Muneeb Hendricks said well-dressed syndicate members using high-performance getaway vehicles targeted ATM users with a variety of cons.
"We are getting increasing reports of this happening from our own public safety officers," he said.
Within the CCID central city footprint, more than one incident is reported daily.
"We've also noticed that the biggest group being targeted is tourists, which is very concerning as we cannot have them returning home with a negative impression of our CBD or country."
A police source, who cannot be named because he is not allowed to speak to the media, confirmed the growing problem.
He said since November, City of Cape Town law-enforcement officers had made at least six arrests and police a further six for ATM fraud.
But convictions were rare because by the time cases got to court victims had left the country, the source said.
"The courts have now decided that because it is becoming such a problem they will proceed without witnesses if we have enough evidence on a suspect."
Hendricks said the syndicates appeared to use various techniques to con their targets.
"These guys almost always have cash in their hands so they look like they've just drawn money, and each person in the syndicate has a different role.
"One of the common tactics is for the syndicate member who has ostensibly just drawn money to 'accidentally' drop a high-value bank note on the floor to distract you and when your attention is diverted, another member steals your card outright or switches it."
He said the conmen often fled in hired cars.
The police source said ATM fraud with the same modus operandi had spread as far as Stellenbosch and the Strand.
"There has been a large drop in cash-in-transit heists and those guys have shifted their operations to this," said the source.
Natalie Bacon, a UK citizen who has been working in Cape Town as a project manager for a year, recently had her card stolen at an ATM in Sea Point after being distracted by two thieves.
She said the criminals withdrew R13500 from her account within seven minutes from three ATMs. But her bank in England reimbursed her.
Western Cape police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel André Traut said the SAPS had "implemented measures to address the matter" and that two suspects had been charged with fraud last month.